Tracking a wild animal is a complex form of problem-solving. It calls upon a refined set of skills and a particular way of thinking. It compels us to be conscious of the interconnectedness of all life.
I want to show you how, by adopting the mindset of a tracker, you can make high-quality decisions.
And, how it can be used to solve modern-day business problems.
Wildlife trackers operate in a wild and wordless environment – where information is often incomplete – and this causes uncertainty.
To overcome this, trackers consider three interrelated factors: 1. The track evidence. 2. The physical landscape 3. The animal itself.
Decisions are made by merging the facts and the wider environmental significance, together with the animal’s purpose. This allows them to create a mental picture of the activity around them.
But to be successful, the tracker must also adopt certain mindsets. They must become discerning,creative, and sensitive to the environment.
This is most important.
The ability to constantly be shifting one’s attention between the detail and the bigger picture. Zooming in, and zooming out, constantly – is key to finding whatever you are tracking.
As it turns out, the ancient artform of tracking represents a mental framework for holistic decision-making.
Worldwide, decision-making is becoming increasingly expedient.
I’d love to show you how this can be changed.
We will put your team in the boots of an expert animal tracker! You will be asked to make the same decisions that they make.
https://alexandren.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/Screenshot-DM.jpg7201280Alex Van den Heeverhttps://alexandren.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Alex-And-renias-Motivational-Speakers-2-1030x420.pngAlex Van den Heever2022-08-05 09:03:462022-08-18 02:02:55HOW TO MAKE BETTER DECISIONS
Early in our careers as guides, Renias and I received a radio call that a female leopard was seen feeding on a bushbuck kill.
The announcement was specific about the location.
As we neared, Renias gestured for me to turn left.
‘That’s not the place,’ I said. ‘It’s to the right’.
‘Ok, but I think there’s a leopard over there,’ replied Renias indifferently, pointing to a large jackalberry tree.
‘Jika ximatsi’, he said.
By now our guests were raining questions on me. They were VIP’s and I felt compelled to show them a good sighting. And we had a reliable report which I intended to use.
There was no time to waste following Renias’s hunch.
‘Jika ximatsi..ximatsi means left’ repeated Renias, now irate with my apparent contrariness.. and the guests had noticed his displeasure with me.
Not wanting to make a scene I grudgingly swung the Land Rover eastwards – following his suggestion to go left.
About halfway along Renias said, ‘hatlisa (faster), the leopard is moving now’.
Moments later a magnificent female leopard emerged from the woodland. The guests were awestruck. ‘Renias is a genius!’ pronounced one of them. “He speaks squirrel!” exclaimed another.
Incredibly, he used a tree squirrel’s faint danger call to determine the leopard’s presence and to interpret its behaviour.
I came to learn that it’s nearly impossible to successfully track a leopard without considering the alarm calls made by other animals.
The truth is that I had no chance of finding it myself. If it weren’t for Renias, our VIPs would likely not have seen a leopard.
I was oblivious to an entire dimension of nature’s language. And I wasn’t even aware that I was unaware. I also lacked the technical ability to recognise the omnipresent chirps of intelligence all around me.
And the pressure to deliver for my guests caused me to become hyper-focused – further impairing my awareness.
Our everyday lives are filled with signals – many of which go totally unnoticed.
My friend Grant Ashfield says, ‘An alarm call is a message from the future – it represents danger, the need to slow down, be vigilant and pay attention’.
And they come in many forms…
Niggling feelings of restlessness, apprehension, or recurring mistakes, maybe the first signs that you’re losing track.
For leaders, dull meetings, poor trust, people operating in silos, and lacking accountability – are clues that the team is in peril.
For organisations, the departure of good people, the entry of a competitor, and diminishing engagement – are signals.
The difficulty is that most signals are as faint as a squirrel’s call among the cacophony of others. And they’re often inconvenient too – the timing doesn’t necessarily suit.
The irony is that warning signs lead to opportunity – either from wisdom gained by avoiding danger, or the realisation of a goal – like finding a leopard.
The biggest threat of all is choosing to ignore the signs. Or being reluctant to act.
Noticing an alarm call is the first step in the journey of change – towards greater prospects.
Expert wildlife trackers rely on nature’s signs to find the animals they pursue. And for their safety.
Spend 5 minutes thinking about alarm calls you may have noticed in the last 24 hours. Can you interpret them, and more importantly, are you prepared to act on them?
Sign up for Tracking Success. We dedicate one of our campfire conversations to discussing alarm calls in our professional lives.
https://alexandren.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Crucial-alarm-calls.jpg481850Alex Van den Heeverhttps://alexandren.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Alex-And-renias-Motivational-Speakers-2-1030x420.pngAlex Van den Heever2021-10-14 16:44:312022-03-23 09:19:28CRUCIAL ALARM CALLS
Hunter-gatherers practised the most successful lifestyle strategy in human history – lasting some 200,000 years, so what is the Hunter-gatherer secret?
The Ju/’hoansi trackers in north-western Botswana, with whom Renias and I have spent time, epitomise the modern hunter-gatherer. No longer nomadic, they live in a permanent village and rely somewhat on livestock for protein, but still, hunt by traditional means.
Until about 12,000 years ago humans relied solely on hunting, fishing and foraging.
For the hunter-gatherer, the business of finding food is an important daily activity.
The complex animal sign must be correctly interpreted to secure a meal, or detect danger. A vast number of plant species are also utilised for sustenance and medicinal remedies.
Because the environment in which they operate is wordless, hunter-gatherers develop an acute sensitivity for nature’s cues. A subtle change in the pitch of a bird’s call, or a slight turn in humidity, means a great deal to them.
They are experts at noticing. A virtue that extends to their human relationships too.
Although opportunistic they seldom seek to over-exploit. For the Ju/’hoansi hoarding is frowned upon. They understand that their survival is inextricably linked to a thriving, sustainable ecosystem.
This is ecological literacy in action.
Despite the challenging conditions they face to obtain a meal, they work less and enjoy more leisure time than people of industrialised societies. Interestingly, their varied diet makes them healthier too.
Qam Kgamxoo explains the burrowing behaviour of a springhare
Humour is a constant feature of their social interactions. And one doesn’t need to understand their language to get its value!
Historically their societies were classless – all members were born equal – with no permanent leaders. A life of such profound purpose means formalised authority is less important.
If we measure success by physical and mental health, then it can be argued that the hunter-gatherer lifestyle is a remarkably successful one.
So, what happened 12,000 years ago?
Driven by a greater need for food security and perhaps, just convenience, gradually societies began learning how to domesticate crops and animals.
This was the genesis of agriculture and early civilisation. And it had a profound impact on how we live, eat and interact with each other.
A few things happened though. For one, humans began storing more food which increased the quantity people ate. Secondly, it led to large permanent communities in which disease became prevalent.
Ironically, the shift also coincided with a decrease in the quality of food consumed – a legacy that continues to afflict modern societies to this day.
Most interestingly, the transition to agriculture marked the beginnings of inequality. Because those who controlled the surpluses assumed the power.
Farming also triggered the now-universal belief in hard work and the benefits of profit.
Successful crop cultivation is delicately linked to the seasons – meaning early farmers became more conscious of time – causing the future to take on far greater value.
By contrast, hunter-gatherers tend to focus on their immediate needs.
The agricultural societies grew rapidly and out-competed the hunter-gatherers in most places.
The original farmers were geographically lucky. Fortunate to live in places with crops and animals that are easily domesticated, which gave them a distinct advantage.
It had nothing to do with intellect or genetics.
In the end, our need for profit, power and convenience spelt the end of the hunter-gatherer age. Even though it meant working harder, less freedom and being more sickly.
The farmers ultimately left us with literature, the arts and technology – which we’ve developed to astonishing levels.
The hunter-gatherers left us with a connection to the natural world – which is sadly fading.
Malcolm Gladwell sums it up well, “Praising ourselves for being civilised is no guarantee of survival. We can be law-abiding and peace-loving and tolerant and inventive and committed to freedom and true to our own values and still behave in ways that are biologically suicidal.”
The hunter-gatherer secret is their relationships.
For there is no civilisation without a legitimate partnership with the earth.
https://alexandren.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Juhoansi-1JPG.jpg684912Alex Van den Heeverhttps://alexandren.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Alex-And-renias-Motivational-Speakers-2-1030x420.pngAlex Van den Heever2021-06-01 18:45:372022-04-05 06:28:53THE HUNTER-GATHERER SECRET
Humanity is furious – mostly with itself. We’re intolerant of our power of diversity. We tell ourselves stories about one another based on our individual and collective suite of evidence-free biases. This is creating an angry, polarised world.
Organizations have an opportunity to harness the immense power inherent in our collective humanity.
The benefits of a high-trust, diverse team are vast. Employing people from disparate backgrounds introduces an assortment of perspectives that promote creativity and productivity.
But a diverse team isn’t necessarily a high-performing one. In fact, Harvard has shown that if diverse teams aren’t actively managed for inclusion, they can underperform homogenous ones.
For diverse teams to be effective, there needs an entrenched culture of trust. Trust bolsters teams through challenging times. The celebration of difference engenders a belief that there’s care for everyone’s personal success.
By contrast, a low-trust team constantly seeks evidence to prove why they can’t trust. Often individuals of the minority group are targeted. This is a totally pointless strategy, that, left unchecked, will ultimately drive the team into mediocrity.
People need to be comfortable with bringing their unique perspectives to the table. For that to happen, the environment needs to feel inclusive.
No amount of BBEEE legislation can make an individual believe they’re a valued member of a team. Neither do fancy, off-site team-building events with smooth-talking facilitators, or the obligatory Heritage Day wearing of traditional garb to the office.
Belongingness stems from seemingly insignificant daily actions that demonstrate tolerance and kindness – when no one is looking.
Very few organizations manage to shape a culture of genuine inclusivity where a person can unashamedly flourish as themselves.
Diverse teams bring an assortment of perspectives to the table.
Most companies naively follow mainstream labour laws, empowerment codes, HR practices, generic CSR programmes, and hopeful community outreach programmes – as a sole means of demonstrating care for their people.
Transformation of a heart and a mind takes place at an individual level. It requires genuine intent.
If you’d like to release the potential of diversity in your company, school, or organisation, we can help you do that in an authentic, amusing, and poignant way.
We’ll demonstrate the power of diversity where our human prejudice comes from and how, as individuals, we can find the best in our fellow human beings.
Our programme addresses diversity from four standpoints:
the lived experience of a black medical professional,
a real-life example of how diversity can work,
human biology – why and how we are like we are,
how everything begins with trust (a Harvard Business School model)
Contact us for a conversation about your specific needs.
https://alexandren.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Ren-and-Alex.jpg12412034Alex Van den Heeverhttps://alexandren.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Alex-And-renias-Motivational-Speakers-2-1030x420.pngAlex Van den Heever2021-03-04 13:29:262022-04-05 06:29:34THE POWER OF DIVERSITY
We watched them drag kills up trees. And mothers tenderly nursing their young. On one occasion we even walked with a wild leopard as she hunted. With no sign of aggression.
Leopards symbolise intelligence and independence. There’s an intangible sense of power about them.
Their mysterious nature is tempting. We found ourselves wanting to be closer. I had a recurring dream that I made friends with a leopard, which I loved.
It’s the reason why people fly halfway around the world to see one.
But the sightings weren’t always like that.
Dave Varty tells me they were lucky to get even a glimpse of a leopard at Londolozi in the early 1970s. Monkeys alarming in the woodland. Or the remains of an impala carcass hanging in a tree – was the only confirmation they were there.
Today, the Sabi Sands game reserve is synonymous with leopard sightings. A success story that has its origins largely at Londolozi.
How did this happen?
Trail of a leopard dragging a carcass. Photo by Lex Hes
Enticing signs of leopards prompted the Londolozi guides to go in search of the secret cat.
And they had an advantage – expert wildlife trackers.
The original leopard tracking team consisted of Elmon Mhlongo, Phineas Mhlongo, and Kimbian Mnisi. A couple of years later Richard Siwela arrived. And in the early 1980s, Renias Mhlongo.
They were the most successful leopard trackers of their time. The ones who tracked them on foot until they found them.
Richard Siwela spent an unbroken 42 years tracking leopards at Londolozi. His success rate was about 70% – at the height of his career. An outstanding achievement when one considers the average of 22% for tracking and finding a leopard.
Richard has successfully tracked more leopards than anyone else in Africa.
Richard Siwela tracking at Londolozi
These men crafted a relationship with the world’s most elusive big cat. It is a remarkable story. They were mavericks – achieving what no one else had done before.
They developed trust with wild leopards so that people could view them. Allowing us to share in their mystical lives – for the very first time.
Leopards leave subtle signs difficult to see. Their mercurial ways provide the ultimate challenge for the master tracker.
The team was successful because of their refined tracking skills, intimate knowledge, and sheer tenacity.
Respect for the animal was their main tenet – it’s what made it all possible.
Leopards on a kill. Photo by David Dampier
Over 50 years, an extraordinary connection has immerged between the humans and leopards at Londolozi.
A relationship bound in reverence.
A partnership that allows for a vast sanctuary of wilderness to thrive. And which has inspired so much more.
It’s an example, too, of ancient tracking skills becoming relevant in modern conservation efforts.
To us, the trackers are the heroes. They are legitimate co-creators of an entire industry. The guides who drove the trackers and their guests were also integral to the process of habituating the leopards.
One wonders what other opportunities exist. If we intentionally develop meaningful relationships with our animal kin.
If we can do it with leopards, surely, it’s possible with all nature?
https://alexandren.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Elmon-Mhlongo.jpeg394702Alex Van den Heeverhttps://alexandren.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Alex-And-renias-Motivational-Speakers-2-1030x420.pngAlex Van den Heever2021-02-16 08:02:122022-04-05 06:29:57THE ORIGINAL LEOPARD TRACKERS
Your company is planning to hold a conference or some sort of corporate event, and you need a speaker. Knowing how to select an ideal keynote speaker is key to a successful event. Someone who will set the tone of the event, energize and inspire your audience. A professional who speaks for a living: a keynote speaker – can make a massive difference to an event.
The mere fact that you are employing a professional speaker to address your staff (or audience) signals that you care. It is a symbolic act, so it’s important to get it right.
What is a keynote speaker?
To select the perfect keynote speaker you need someone who sets the tone (or keynote) of the event and establishes the theme. If you’ve selected well, the speaker can have a lasting impact. Even years after the event, employees should still hear that voice that reaffirms their position and purpose in the company.
A great speaker has the ability to change the direction of a company, or its culture, in a single event.
While there are similarities between a keynote speaker and a motivational speaker, such as that they both make their audience feel inspired, a motivational speaker seeks to evoke emotion. To get jolt people into long-lasting behavioral change. A keynote speaker mostly uses topical facts and focuses on the organization, its brand, ethos, vision, mission, etc. Your decision on which speaker to use depends entirely on the purpose of the event. If your staff needs to be inspired, use a motivational speaker; if they need to be informed, use a keynote speaker.
The best speakers are both informative and inspirational – able to achieve both outcomes in one performance – a motivational keynote speaker.
Steps to choosing the ideal keynote speaker
There are certain considerations to choosing a suitable speaker.
Firstly, you should plan well ahead. Many of the best keynote speakers are in high demand and are often booked 12 months in advance. Planning ahead allows your speaker time to prepare the most appropriate presentation – the one that has a material impact on your event.
Here are 6 practical steps to choosing the perfect speaker for your event:
Define the purpose of the event
Determine the event’s logistics and scheduling
Establish your audience’s specific needs
Determine what you want your audience to know and feel – the desired outcome
Clarify your expectations of the speaker
Don’t settle for the first speaker you find online. Be certain to get references, review videos of their previous performances, books, articles, and visit their website, blog, and social channels. You want legitimate evidence that they have the expertise and authority to speak to your group.
Ask speaker bureaus’ who they would recommend for your event. Any bureau worth it’s salt should engage in a robust due diligence effort.
To find a thought-leader for your topic, search for similar events or conferences online, to establish who others used as a keynote speaker for a similar event outcome. Preferably select someone who has published their work, and where peer review has been possible.
For open, public engagements, selecting a speaker with a large social media following can be helpful. Many speakers will advertise their presentation (and your event) on their social media without charging extra.
Ensure the speaker appeals to your audience’s demographics. For example, a younger audience may require an energetic speaker that understands that generation’s needs, trends, and interests.
Selecting the perfect keynote speaker that connects emotionally with your audience. People may not recall what they said during the presentation, but they will remember how they were made to feel. You want your speaker to challenge the audience, in a sensitive yet forthright manner. To ask them to think differently about important matters.
You want the speaker to be an agent for change. To challenge your organization to adapt to the changing times. The best speakers deliver a message that is innovative, practical, and emotional. You want your audience to leave saying, “I can do that”. Something attainable.
Keep your budget in mind. There are many outstanding and affordable upcoming speakers. You will pay more for celebrity speakers but make sure that you’re not paying a premium for their celebrity status, rather than their ability to deliver an important, inspiring message.
What to do once you have a shortlist
Once you have a shortlist of possible speakers, hold a meeting with them. An in-person meeting may not be possible, but don’t settle for a telephonic interview. You want to see the person conduct themselves using non-verbal language. Voice, eye contact – how engaging they are. This can be achieved at a virtual meeting. Don’t rush the meeting.
At your interview, it’s important to ask the right questions. According to Dr. Rick Goodman, a world-renowned executive coach, it is vital to know the following:
How will the speaker ensure their presentation is memorable: what tactics and visuals do they use to keep the audience’s attention?
What’s their process to engage meaningfully with the audience: is it a monologue or is there interaction and participation by the audience?
Their professional and personal background: it’s important to know whether the speaker has any particular worldviews or prejudices that could make them a poor fit. Misplaced humor can totally destroy a great presentation.
Other speakers, they admire: ask them if there are other similar speakers that they would recommend.
Presentation length: the duration of the presentation is important. Audiences generally do not concentrate well towards the end of a day. Ask whether the speaker has the ability to adapt the talk to your time constraints, even at the last minute?
Why they should be chosen as your keynote speaker: ask them to tell you why their presentation is perfect for your event. An elevator pitch of sorts. They should have done their homework on your organization. This may indicate if they’re persuasive and a good speaker. You want to know their unique selling point.
Is the speaker able to integrate your company ethos and event theme: does the speaker have the wherewithal and flexibility to include your event’s desired outcomes into the keynote?
Once you have selected a speaker, sort out the logistics. For example, travel plans to the venue, accommodation, soundcheck logistics, MC introduction, exact arrival time, dress code, etc. The best speakers like to arrive early to test the technical equipment. Some speakers prefer to have an input in the seating arrangement.
It’s important to get the speaker’s equipment requirements list long before the event.
Take the time to introduce the speaker to the relevant sound and IT people. Presenter visual aids are vital for some speakers. And it can be disconcerting for a speaker if there are last-minute technical problems.
Give the speaker the best chance of success. And this is how to select the perfect keynote speaker.
https://alexandren.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Presenting-Joburg.jpg15282300Alex Van den Heeverhttps://alexandren.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Alex-And-renias-Motivational-Speakers-2-1030x420.pngAlex Van den Heever2021-02-09 18:55:592022-04-05 06:30:33HOW TO SELECT THE PERFECT KEYNOTE SPEAKER
The only country that dedicates a public holiday to promote social cohesion. And to celebrate our nation’s unity, following a divided past.
The verb reconcile is from the Latin words re, meaning “again,” and conciliar, meaning “to make friendly.”
In accounting terms, reconciliation means to compare two sets of financial records. To check that the figures are correct. To establish its completeness.
Some companies reconcile their transactions every day. It is the best practice in certain industries.
Daily reconciliation allows one to identify minor errors early. Before they become major blunders with far-reaching consequences.
In human terms, the act of reconciliation is about making one view or belief compatible with another. It is the precursor to peace.
Shouldn’t we be reconciling for more than one day a year?
Renias and I discussed a few practical steps to achieve unity – based on our journey together.
Here they are:
Acknowledge your biases and differences of opinion. This requires robust self-assessment. An honest reflection of your most deep-seated feelings. Everyone has prejudice thoughts about other groups.
Get uncomfortable. Be prepared to travel outside of your physical, emotional, and cultural safe zone. Have a difficult conversation. Visit their home, church, or cultural event. To fully understand takes courage. It’s often inconvenient.
Be vulnerable. Be open to the possibility of being criticized. Freely apologise or accept an apology. Don’t allow the fear of reprisal to hinder the process. A defense strategy is an obstruction to reconciliation.
Create clarity about your expectations and limits. Communicate what you will do to reconcile. This helps to define your position and intended actions. It frees both parties.
Follow through. Immerse yourself in the life and culture of another person or group. Learn the language, for example. And be aware that token gestures will be interpreted as such.
Keep moving forward. It’s never perfect.
As a guiding question this Reconciliation Day ask yourself; do you want to be right, or do you want to be free?
Please comment if you have had experiences of reconciliation that you would like to share.
https://alexandren.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/AlexRen-sunset.jpg9391504Alex Van den Heeverhttps://alexandren.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Alex-And-renias-Motivational-Speakers-2-1030x420.pngAlex Van den Heever2020-12-15 13:02:582022-04-05 06:31:105 STEPS OF RECONCILIATION
Last month Renias and I helped a game reserve start a leopard habituation project in the Waterberg. A Tracker Academy project to track, find and form relationships with leopards. For the benefit of ecotourism lodges in the area.
During the day we tracked leopards. In the evenings, we made a fire, braaied our food and chatted freely.
Our conversations spanned several topics, and in his usual manner, Renias introduced humour at every possible juncture. He loves making people laugh! And I thoroughly enjoy the banter.
We spoke in both Shangaan and English.
It struck me that the spirit of our conversations is unique. In stark contrast to the hostile tone of the current national conversation. Especially between people of disparate cultures.
Just before bed, Renias reminded me of lions we’d watched hunting a wildebeest at Londolozi.
We had been talking politics and I sensed he had something important to say.
Whilst sprinting for its life the wildebeest glanced back at the fast-approaching lion – at exactly the wrong moment. Causing the animal to crash into a small tree.
The obstacle gifted the lion the extra split second it needed. Ultimately killing the poor wildebeest.
Although macabre, Renias’s theatrics in acting out the scene was very entertaining. Please watch the video if you haven’t seen it yet.
Metaphorically speaking, Ren wants South Africans to know that we should not look backwards. Otherwise, we will be killed.
It is true that if the wildebeest had not looked back, he may still be alive. But equally, his rear-guard vigilance alerted him to the danger in the first place.
Perhaps he looked backwards once too many times?
But something bothered me about the story’s message. I reflected further and realised that for many people the past still haunts them.
It’s not so easy to just drop emotionally charged memories. Above all, trauma.
Renias’s message is that we should rather focus on the now. Build relationships now. Contribute to the country now. Instead of dwelling on the past or fearing the future.
Easier said than done.
I have noticed a trend where white people avoid talking about the past. And black people (and those affected by apartheid) demonstrate the need to address our common history.
One group feels guilty and/or fears retribution. Whilst the other desires acknowledgement and reparation. Both are expected human responses given the circumstances.
The problem is that no ‘side’ will give an inch. Consequently, attitudes have begun to harden – driving us even further apart.
It may be wise to suggest that we collectively engage with both the past and future. The old adage of ‘the tyranny of OR versus the genius of AND’ comes to mind.
https://alexandren.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Message-from-Wildebeest.jpg476745Alex Van den Heeverhttps://alexandren.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Alex-And-renias-Motivational-Speakers-2-1030x420.pngAlex Van den Heever2020-10-28 13:50:582022-07-22 16:49:00MESSAGE FROM A WILDEBEEST
“If you are not good, we are not good” – Renias Mhlongo.
Most South Africans have little or no financial resilience. No savings that they can access.
To build a prosperous nation, individuals (citizens) need to improve their capacity to consider other people’s perspectives and circumstances. More actively.
Almost half the country’s households depend on some form of social grant. And we cannot rely on government to fill this gap. Even the wealthiest countries are under tremendous pressure.
Covid-19 has also had a polarising effect on most societies. Consequently, our relationships are more frequently defined by intolerance and mistrust.
We urgently need a unifying force.
Here’s a true story to illustrate the point…
I was 19 years old when I began working as a safari guide at a private game reserve.
Apart from being able to speak English, and a few basic bush skills taught to me by my grandfather, my ability to conduct a safe and entertaining wildlife safari experience was limited.
Given my lack of skills, my job was not safe.
The head guide had noticed my rawness and inexperience. So he paired me with one of the most competent animal trackers on the reserve.
Enter Renias Mhlongo.
This made all the difference.
Renias had twelve years of professional tracking experience. He’d also spent a lifetime immersed in the wilds of the South African Lowveld.
The two of us were like comparing AB de Villiers (a top international cricket player) with a kid who plays club cricket.
Renias decided to teach me about the bushveld – the birds, tracks, plants and the subtleties of animal behaviour. Every single game drive was an education. More importantly, his lessons were delivered with a spirit of generosity.
One afternoon I asked him why he thought he needed to constantly teach me.
‘Because if you’re not good, we are not good,’ he quipped.
For the first time, I saw us as a partnership, a unit that I could be proud of. I realised that Renias wasn’t going to settle for mediocrity. He wanted us to be excellent.
Over time we developed a shared sense of purpose. My skills improved and before long we were inundated with requests to take people tracking.
He taught me his language and in so doing revealed his essential self. Learning to speak Shangaan is unquestionably one of the most enlightening things I’ve done.
A deeper connection formed when I could converse with Renias in his language.
He needn’t have expended all that energy, but he felt compelled to travel outside his comfort zone to help me.
Twenty-five years later we still work together, thriving from a life based on wildlife tracking.
So, what’s my point?
There are many stories of hope emanating from the Covid-induced financial disaster. Generous accounts of NGO’s providing lifesaving resources for vulnerable people.
But there’s another possibility awaiting us; one that lies beyond conventional philanthropy. One that connects us individually and energetically.
It fosters inclusiveness. It provides one with an opportunity to take part in a transformative relationship – a rarity in a world currently afflicted by intolerance and indifference.
Renias and I believe it’s time we start to meaningfully engage our less privileged countrymen.
What does this mean?
There are somewhere between 7.5 to 20 million working-class people in South Africa. If just ten percent committed to sharing a skill or knowledge to enhance another person’s life – ordinary citizens could play a significant role in curtailing poverty and facilitating wellbeing.
Choose one person. Someone whose life may be materially improved by an ongoing learning intervention. Undertake to teach something.
Whether it be an art, science, leadership, sport, technology, trade, language, gastronomy, or a culture. Mentor someone.
This is a long-term investment in another human being. Where payback is realised through shared identity, deepened relationships, and earning potential for the mentee. In a land that needs it desperately.
We’d like to invite all those with the means to share value. To actively participate in nation-building.
A country with a chance to develop greater levels of tolerance and inclusiveness. And perhaps even economic self-sufficiency for a few desperate people.
If you are good, we are all good.
Choose one person.
Book Alex and Renias’s keynote presentation called the Power of Relationships. It provides the keys to unlock the latent potential in diverse working relationships.
“In an extremely entertaining presentation Alex and Renias tell how people from vastly different backgrounds, cultures and beliefs can forge powerful relationships. Crucially, they demonstrate how cohesion, and pure bottom line profit flow from the quality of the relationships within any team, organisation, and country.” Ian Thomas, South African Hall of Fame Speaker
https://alexandren.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Build-nation.jpg485880Alex Van den Heeverhttps://alexandren.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Alex-And-renias-Motivational-Speakers-2-1030x420.pngAlex Van den Heever2020-09-17 11:52:022022-04-05 06:54:56BUILD A NATION: CHOOSE ONE PERSON
Renias and I stepped off the aircraft in Punta Arenas, the capital city of the area near the tip of Chile’s southernmost Patagonia region, into a bracing 1ºC. As I got to the top of the stairs to disembark the aeroplane, a baggage handler offered, ‘Welcome to a warm day in Punta Arenas!’ and Renias stared at him disbelievingly, already shivering in his flimsy fleece. Punta Arenas is situated on the Strait of Magellan connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and is often used as a base for excursions to Antarctica.
The next day we drove onto a concession that neighbors the famous Torres del Paine National Park. As we drove, we noticed a few vulture-like large birds called Andean condors sitting on the ground ahead in the distance. Their presence, together with that of birds called caracara of the falcon family, was a possible indication of a fresh carcass nearby. Primarily a scavenger like our African vultures, the Andean condor is considered the largest flying land bird in the world, when combining its weight and wingspan, and it has incredible longevity, reaching up to 70 years of age in some cases.
We stopped the vehicle and went to investigate what the condors were feeding on and this took us down a relatively steep slope in the direction of the national park. Our guide, Cristobal Sanchez, looked through his binoculars and said there was a dead sheep and that it was probably killed by a puma. I scanned the landscape with my binoculars and was struck by the similarity of the vegetation to the Karoo, the only exception being that Patagonia has more snow-capped mountains and lakes. We walked up to the sheep’s carcass and saw bits of wool scattered around the kill on the stubby black shrubs that are common to the area.
Renias and I immediately began searching for tracks, hoping to find one of a puma (mountain lion) but the ground was still frozen solid, as was the spilled sheep’s blood, even though it was already 10 am. I had been excited at the prospect of finding and following a puma’s trail, but once we were on the ground it became blatantly clear that it was going to be a very challenging tracking proposition.
The bite marks on the sheep’s neck and evidence of a predator feeding from between the hind legs were clear. The evidence clearly indicated that a large carnivore had killed, or had certainly fed on, that sheep. Even though the puma had likely spent quite some time feeding at the site, we could not make out a single track. Cristobal wanted to keep walking because he felt he had a sense of where the puma might have gone. I asked him to give us some time to explore the area but I sensed his disenchantment of what I’m sure he saw as complete inexperience on our part. The previous evening some of the guides had questioned Renias and I as to how we planned to track in such stony and difficult conditions and my answer was just that we were ‘going to try’. Not a very encouraging response!
‘Here’s a track, Buti,’ Renias said to me, after having scouted the immediate area around the sheep’s carcass for a good few minutes. It was probably the faintest track I’d ever seen and I really had to use my imagination to try to see what Renias was seeing. I could make out two reasonably clear toe impressions, but the rest of the track was exceedingly obscure. Cristobal also looked at the track and I waited for him to challenge us but he simply said, ‘Good,’ which made we wonder if he could even see the track.
That morning, Cristobal was supposed to be orientating us and showing us some of the areas where the Awasi guides believed the pumas were frequenting, but I asked him whether we could follow the track we had found instead. He was under instruction from his boss and I got the sense he didn’t want to disobey him or veer too far off the plans for the day. Following the tracks meant we would be disrupting the plans for the day, but I knew we needed to take full advantage of the opportunity, and being agile in our thought processes and developing optionality in our approach made us good trackers. And that day, in those tracking conditions, represented the chance we needed to take.
With a slight show of indignation, Cristobal agreed to follow us as we tracked the puma. The tracks were not heading in the direction he’d predicted but I agreed with Renias, not only because of where the track was pointing, but I also surmised that as the pumas had been persecuted in that area, they would in all likelihood want to return to the safety of the national park during the day, after having killed a sheep in a place it must have known was dangerous.
We continued on our track and walked along a natural path in a westerly direction, down a slope towards a large river called Las Chinas, which forms the boundary with the national park. ‘There will be a natural crossing point across the river that the pumas will use,’ said Renias to Cristobal. Cristobal agreed and pointed directly ahead. Renias then looked back at me and smiled knowingly. ‘I will find it, mfo,’ he said. Further along the trail, I noticed a tiny piece of bloodied wool on the ground that I showed to Renias. He gave me a satisfied grin and agreed we were definitely in the right area as the wool must have dropped from the muzzle of the puma after having fed on the sheep, or perhaps it stopped to preen and clean itself and the residual piece of wool had dropped on the ground. We couldn’t be certain but the wool was clear evidence that we were still on the puma’s trail.
An icy wind started to blow, which launched an assault on my nose, ears, and feet, and I had to stop every few metres and do a few star jumps to try to warm up. ‘My nose is throbbing,’ I stammered to Renias in Shangaan and he replied, ‘Because it’s too big, mfo. Mine is small that’s why I’m fine,’ demonstrating his sense of humour even under the toughest of conditions. We had never experienced temperatures that cold and it was beginning to take its toll on our energy levels. I had lost all feeling in my feet and hands, and I rued the fact that I hadn’t purchased proper gear when we were in Punta Arenas, something Cristobal had strongly suggested we do.
I looked up at the three towers of Torres del Paine and immediately had renewed respect for mountaineers and for people who’ve taught themselves to endure the extreme cold. Cristobal must’ve seen me looking at the mountain and told me it was minus 15ºC at its peak! He could see we were taking strain and kindly offered us each a chocolate bar that we devoured and then immediately asked for another. I don’t think he was convinced about tracking the puma. In his mind we were wasting his time following imaginary puma tracks!
We proceeded for another fifteen minutes and Renias then spotted another equally faint track on the ground. I started to feel excited that we were close to finding the puma. Renias always displays a subtle change in his body language, which I don’t think he’s even aware of, when he thinks we are close to finding an animal we’re tracking. He starts to move a little quicker, he speaks faster, he looks up more often and there’s generally positive energy about him. Whether it was my own intuition or I was unconsciously reading Renias’s energy, I felt we were close.
I looked back to where we had found the sheep’s carcass and it was clear the puma was heading back towards its place of refuge in the Torres del Paine National Park. The only question was how far we were behind it. In Africa, we can tell the age of a carcass by the state and colour of the flesh and the flies and associated smell, but because the sheep’s flesh and blood were already frozen, we couldn’t judge how old the kill was. But the puma had eaten less than 20 percent of the carcass, so we could deduce it had been killed very early that morning.
Eventually, we got to a high point above the Las Chinas River and had a good view of the water channel below. Cristobal then told us that the crossing point he knew of was slightly further upstream, as Renias predicted, and that we should go and check it. As we were about to turn and find a route down to the water’s edge, we noticed something moving along the opposite bank of the river. ‘Puma!’ exclaimed Cristobal. Renias and I scrambled for our binoculars but my hands had lost some fine motor control from the cold so it took me a good minute or so to line up my binoculars with the animal. And indeed it was a puma – a young male striding along the opposite riverbank totally unaware of our presence and doing exactly as it would have had we not been there. I never believed that we would even track a puma in Chile let alone be successful in finding and seeing one and Renias turned to me, gave me a high-five, and said, ‘I told you, mfo!’
https://alexandren.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Puma.jpg7201280Alex Van den Heeverhttps://alexandren.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Alex-And-renias-Motivational-Speakers-2-1030x420.pngAlex Van den Heever2020-08-20 09:33:172022-04-05 06:55:45Tracking Pumas in Patagonia